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Interview with Ellie Goldsworthy, British Armed Forces Analyst - 2003-01-14

A new survey shows most Britons do not consider Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to be a sufficient threat to justify war. The poll says 58 percent of respondents were not convinced that Iraq is sufficiently dangerous to justify going to war, even though a slightly larger number think there are links between Iraq and Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida terror network. Almost one-third of respondents said they oppose any kind of British military action against Iraq, under any circumstances. Ellie Goldsworthy is an armed forces analyst at London's Royal United Services Institute. She tells News Now's Rebecca Ward that although the British are wary of a war, they will likely back the government, if it does join a coalition against Iraq.

EG: I think the British public are very cautious, and cynical even, about the government's build up of what looks like an imminent war in the Gulf. However, what I would say is that when you look at the history of conflicts that we have been involved in, from the Gulf War to Bosnia to Kosovo, the British public tends to come behind the government once a decision is made.

RW: Do you think the mood is any different today than it was 13 years ago at the beginning of the other Gulf War?

EG: I think it is slightly different. I think the last time it was easy to see that an injustice had been done; i.e., that Saddam Hussein had invaded Kuwait, and therefore it was much more obvious as to why we were going to war. We were going to war to liberate a country to whom an injustice had been done. This time it is not as clear-cut. But Kosovo wasn't as clear-cut either. And actually, so long as the U.K. Prime Minister at some stage gives some kind of evidence for justification for war, I do believe that the majority of the British public will fall behind the British Government.

RW: Prime Minister Blair is of course leader of the Labor Party.

EG: Yes.

RW: But it seems that more conservatives are backing possible war with Iraq.

EG: Yes, it is ironic that when it comes to foreign policy, Tony Blair is quite -- not right-wing, but certainly not left-wing. And I think the constituent that he fears most and he worries about the most is his own backbencher. And when you look at Tony Blair's speeches, like last Tuesday -- and he is going to be talking to the press today -- a lot of the time he is gearing his words not to the Americans and not to the British public even at large but to his own backbenchers, to reassure them that he is going about things in a cautious and intelligent and consensual way.

RW: I wonder, though, how much division there is within the Labor Party.

EG: The opposition is very strong within the Labor Party, and it is a real headache in a way for Tony Blair. And in order to keep the backbenchers behind him, he will have to offer them something else I think. That is not necessarily a second U.N. resolution, but it could be something like more evidence that the dossier that Saddam gave in December had gaps in it, and therefore he is not complying already.

RW: The so-called smoking gun?

EG: Yes. I think the backbenchers don't want to be treated as children, and they will say to him, look, if you've got evidence, let's see it, even if you can't make it public.

RW: Now, getting to the military troops heading off to the Persian Gulf, do you know what kind of commitment that Prime Minister Blair is prepared to make?

EG: I don't know what he is prepared to make other than what he has announced already. The only particular thing he has announced is for the amphibious troops to be deployed on Ark Royal and HMS Ocean -- and for HMS Ocean, which is a helicopter carrier, to be deployed as well. In other words, the additions to the naval task group of 2003 that they sent. In terms of ground troops and parachute soldiers and so on, that would be something I'm happy to speculate on but it's not something I know.

RW: Well, there is quite a large British air force there overseeing the northern and southern no-fly zones, with the United States.

EG: Yes.

RW: I imagine that they would be called in to duty.

EG: Yes. I mean, almost certainly they would be involved in the initial air campaign that would almost certainly be the start of any war with Iraq. And there is some discussion in the press about the fact that more fighter aircraft might go into the Gulf region. And as we know, more have deployed to Jordan for an exercise over there. And those pilots could easily be moved to the Gulf area to take part in any war. But certainly, yes, they would be involved. But I also personally think that if a war does take place with Iraq and the U.K. supports the U.S., we will probably contribute a brigade's worth of ground troops.